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Writers Tashan Mehta (The Liar's Weave) and Prayaag Akbar (Leila) and writer-editor Salik Shah (The Mithila Review) got together with Articles Editor Gautam Bhatia to have a conversation about the present and the futures of English-language Indian speculative fiction writing.


Gautam Bhatia: Five years ago, Strange Horizons ran a discussion about Indian speculative fiction with writers and editors, hosted by Anil Menon (Part I and Part II), called "Splitting the Difference." They talked about problems of nomenclature (what is Indian SF), theme (what is, and what should, Indian SF be about), and authorship (which writers—past and present—make up the field). You are all writers and editors, living and working in India and writing in English, who have emerged after that conversation—at the risk of sounding dramatic, the next generation. Salik, you have founded an SF magazine called Mithila Review, now in its ninth issue, that is run out of India; Prayaag and Tashan, you’ve written novels published in India, set in India, and dealing with distinctive Indian themes (caste and colonialism, among others). So I want to begin by asking this: in the conversation five years ago, we can see a lot of attention being devoted to problems of nomenclature and definition, and an uneasiness with the very term “Indian SF.” Do you feel that we’ve come some distance in the last five years, and that we seem to have, now, the beginnings of a community—however loose and incipient—that we can roughly label “Indian SF writing, in English”? And if so, how would you understand this community?

Prayaag Akbar

Prayaag Akbar: I wouldn’t presume to speak for or of a community as far as Indian science fiction goes. Reading the discussion on Strange Horizons five years ago, I’m struck by the fact that many writers share some of my uneasiness—I feel very much part of an Indian community of writers, but not so much part of a tradition of Indian science fiction. This is my own experience, predicated by a lack of the right reading, perhaps. I know other writers will have an entirely different take. I have an aversion to boundaries, to walls of any kind, as you might have guessed when reading my novel—as a writer I feel thinking “in-genre” is a form of limitation. It is useful to publishers and readers, because there are so many good books written every year, but as a writer, when embarking on this massive task, it doesn’t feel as vitally important, at least to me. When you set out to write a book, you have this vast, open field to run around in, and writing within this or that genre seems to suggest a track within that field. Why do that to your own imagination? I knew, of course, that my book was speculative fiction, but that, to me, is the scaffolding, how you set up the world. What decides the merit of a story is how well you can lay the bricks on top of one another, the quality of the brick, the thought and care that goes into shaping each brick. I wanted to write a story of a world I saw around me. I wanted to extend the physical depredations that already define our urbanity.

I’m happy for any comity I can find within the world of writing, because it is largely solitary and relentless work. I’m pretty new to literary gatherings and festivals and all that, but I have found that writers of all forms and varying stature are very supportive—and generally a lot nicer than I expected!

Tashan Mehta: Hmmm, the solidity of definition makes me uncomfortable. I will say that there is definitely an Indian speculative fiction community—I know this because I have been welcomed into it, for which I am grateful. I think that community has been pretty open-ended about what it’s willing to accept in terms of Indian speculative fiction content. So the boundaries are still loose and free-flowing, which is how I think it should be. There isn’t much use for any category that imposes limits on creation; there is use for a community that makes you feel part of something.

But here, again, I would struggle to define what constitutes the community. I think the closest to a definition would be authors drawing on a cultural, ideological, and experiential database that can be categorised as “Indian.” I don’t mean specifically a mythological/folk-based database or even our history; it’s subtler than that. It’s more the forces that shaped you as a writer: the principles, ideology, thought processes.

Salik Shah: Statistically speaking, yes, we have come some distance. As Prayaag said, writing is solitary and relentless work. One could say the same about reading too, especially if you are a young writer new to the field of science fiction and fantasy. The label “Indian SF writing, in English” comes handy when you are trying to discover the history and body of speculative literature set in or about India, or its people. It’s certainly a good key phrase for Google/Goodreads. Beyond that, the term immediately loses its usefulness or value.

What Mithila Review has allowed us to do is bring together for the first time (?) SF readers, writers, editors, and publishers interested in speculative fiction from or about this region. And it’s such a small community spread across the globe. I am constantly aware of the need to build literary, academic, and commercial infrastructures necessary to support existing, emerging and upcoming scholars, writers, editors, and publishers in/from the region. Most of our contributors and patrons are not even Indians. In the next three-five years, we hope to grow from the beginnings of a sense of community into a real, self-sustaining community which actually supports “Indian SF writing, in English.”    

GB: Tashan, I want to take off from something that you said: you mentioned “a cultural, ideological and experiential database that can be categorised as ‘Indian’”, and then immediately went on to clarify that you weren’t specifically referring to “a mythological/folk-based database.” This is an interesting distinction, because some of the bestselling Indian novels in recent years have been in precisely this genre—an epic fantasy retelling of Indian myths. But with a few exceptions—such as, say, Palace of Illusions—these retellings don’t really take a critical approach to the myths. For the most part, it’s a retelling in a recognisably epic-fantasy setting. Someone dubbed this the genre of “dharmic fiction”, and I think that can be a compliment—or not!—depending on where you stand! But there’s no denying that, in terms of popularity and sales, this subgenre of Indian speculative fiction is doing very well. So what I want to ask you is: how do you position yourselves, as authors and editors, in relation to this body of work, as well as to the corpus of Indian mythology that constitutes a part of the framework within which you write (and edit or solicit work)?

And I ask this as well because the past, including the mythic past, is a political issue right now in India in a way that it hasn’t been for a long time.

PA: To my mind, if you leave aside the question of literary merit, this kind of work—I love the term dharmic fiction—can be separated into two different streams. Salik [see below] is really on to something here.

You have some texts that are genuinely imaginative and inventive. As a writer, as a reader, this is what you want from such retellings. I think this is why someone like Amish is so popular. Even if the style is not to everyone’s taste, it’s clear he brought the full force of his imagination to the party, and that’s really the least you expect from a writer. What about something like Karthika Nair’s Until the Lions? Would that fall in this category of speculative dharmic fiction? It’s hard to think of any work that excavates and enlivens one of our great myths as well as that does. Nair’s poem is also a remarkable literary achievement.

To build on Salik’s point: I don’t mind bad writing. If you can craft a compelling story you are a writer. What really gets my goat—and I’ve watched this genre grow, until it has claimed nearly every airport bookshelf—is that too many writers enter this myth-territory thinking they will write the definitive Indian book, the text that will encompass and link our tumultuous past and present. This is why we get such godawful renditions. Mahabharata in the Mumbai underworld. Ramayana in a corporate boardroom. A failure of imagination from the outset. Our myths are rich and layered, peopled with wonderfully complex characters. Yet contemporary retellings are usually limp, strained, without a smidgen of the power of the source.

It’s no surprise that we have so many of these texts at this moment of hyper-nationalism. Benedict Anderson showed that the ownership of an ancient past is vital to contemporary nationalism. But this isn’t new in India. There is some excellent anthropology on the link between Doordarshan’s airing of the Ramayana and Mahabharata (ordained by the Congress, lest we forget) and the genesis of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Look how well that worked out for the Congress.

Tashan Mehta

TM: Great question, Gautam. Mythology is usually the first resource that comes to mind when you think of Indian SF; it’s well known, rich, and clearly has an audience (for good reason). It can be easy to reduce Indian SF to it. But perhaps because I am Parsi, those mythological resources aren’t a central part of my India. The Ramayana and Mahabharata featured in my childhood, but I have stronger memories of my grandmother’s distinct dislike of Alexander the Great and bedtime stories were more the Magic Faraway Tree meets the Panchatantra. India or being Indian isn’t so firmly nailed to the epics for me.

(Currently fighting the urge to put “Indian” in inverted commas every time I use it. But I assume we all accept it’s a heavily complicated word, with million concepts running underneath it.)

Which makes my relationship to that corpus complicated. It fascinates me but using it imaginatively (and critically, as I would like) carries ideas of authenticity, right, and privilege. And, of course, the politicised weight now being placed on it. I would rather I didn’t feel like that, but I do; I’m still figuring out the answer. I believe good speculative fiction is usually created when writers feel free to pull any element they like out of the mess that moulded them and use it to fashion the worlds they imagine, so that’s what I’m working towards.

SS: Palace of Illusions is a good example of how we can revisit our mythic past, and reclaim it through critical engagement. As a reader, I am open to such retellings. That said, I do not consider Indian mythology to be part of the kind of speculative fiction we seek to publish here at Mithila Review. As an editor, I am more interested in finding new writers and telling stories that haven’t been told before.  

As a writer, I want to be in control and break new ground. Mythological characters are like superstars. You can cast them but it’s difficult to make them your own. There are more than three hundred Ramayanas, and I suspect that most writers secretly nurture the ambition to tackle The Big Book, adapt and somehow make it their own. If the idea is to update or surpass the classics—assuming that’s even possible—and tell the story of our times, conflicts, and people with the contemporary worldview and toolkit, I wish them good luck.

In America, the Trump government knows that fiction or “alternative facts” can be powerful tools of mass distractions, misinformation campaigns, and misguided policymaking. Most mythological retellings also work as propaganda for the Hindu ruling party in India. When the mythic past becomes a national history, no one is really safe. The authoritarian politics of an epic diptych like Baahubali is so wrong and dangerous that I am forced to condemn it. What is it trying to teach us? That we should believe in the myth of virtuous men, and surrender our rights and freedom to the divine rule of an all-powerful king? For the masses, the promise of Ram Rajya—India’s mythic past, its enduring fiction—is inescapable and enticing. When people voted PM Modi to power, did they not vote for the myth of a strong and invincible leader with nearly godlike power to usher in an era of dharma, development, and prosperity? Every time we worship the cult of a personality, we weaken the foundations of our democracy. Religious mythmaking is one of the oldest and most profitable industries, and its bloody engines are working quite remarkably even today. I don’t think dharmic writers, filmmakers, producers, and publishers are naive or innocent; they are deftly and consciously making a grand political and religious statement through their work, turning status quo in the favor of their partners and patrons, and accumulating wealth in the process. In times of economic hardships and crises, people seek comfort wherever they can find it; keep the masses unemployed, uneducated, and unfed, and a whole civilization falls for it.

GB: Prayaag, you noted that there is a direct connection between the explosion of a certain kind of myth-centred fiction and the existence of a strong nationalistic political discourse. This is interesting, because your work, Leila, also interrogates political themes quite directly (caste, political geography or urban spaces, and water wars, to name just three themes). In Tashan’s The Liar’s Weave, colonialism is a strong sub-text. Anil Menon’s Half of What I Say, which came out a couple of years ago, is all about interrogating Indian politics.

Now you compare these works with something like Samit Basu’s The Simoquin Prophecies, which was published in 2004, and I think it’s fair to say, it placed Indian English-language SF writing on the map ... well, in a book like that, Samit is trying to do something quite different. He’s telling a classic epic fantasy story, with its own unique worldbuilding and sense of place. I wonder if you think that the political context in India has become so ... thick, that SF writers—and writing—are compelled to engage with the political and that perhaps might not have been the case earlier. And that you’re likely to see more Leilas in the immediate future than books like The Simoquin Prophecies. I’m reminded of something that Edward Said once wrote about Lebanese and Palestinian writing—that politics was such a daily reality in the lives of those writers, that they didn’t really have the luxury of stepping back and writing fiction in the manner that their counterparts in the more “stable” West did. And of course, related to that is the inevitable question (also asked in the last roundtable) whether you think that there are certain themes that SF writers should be engaging with.

PA: That’s a very interesting point. I imagine it could lead to an increase in this kind of fiction. There are so many interesting avenues to explore when you consider the damage being done right now to community, the environment, family, our cities. I hope it does, but I can’t say I’ve picked up any signs that this is happening.

On whether SF writers should engage with certain topics: I think there are writers who are drawn to such topics and writers who aren’t. The choice of what to write has to come from deep inside you, and is contingent on the kind of books that inspired you to write in the first place. I don’t imagine it would be easy for a writer of epic fantasy to suddenly turn to writing modernist speculative fiction. And to privilege one genre over the other is folly, even in these terms. To me it’s always about the qualities of the writer. If a writer has sufficient insight and imagination then any world they create will tell us a great deal about ourselves and our ongoing agonies. You don’t need to write about a recognisable world; you can base it in a magical land far away and create such a close critique that it upturns the strongholds of the powerful—just think of the original in the genre, Gulliver’s Travels.

TM: I don’t think I can say it any better than Salik [see below] and Prayaag have. The personal is political—there is no escaping that. How a writer chooses to engage with that depends on the fiction they want to tell. Any attempt to create real relationships will carry some form of the political with it.

I should say—I think The Simoqin Prophecies was political. It took Western worldbuilding elements/techniques and wove Eastern mythical elements into it. It poked its head out into an established canon and went, here I am! and demanded place. It allowed a whole new way of storytelling to be seen (not to mention taught generations of writers that it was possible). That is a form of political—although Samit is likely burying his head in his hands right now, with all these authorial intentions I’ve ascribed to him.

Which brings me to an important point in the creation and reception of a text: readers. How political a text is often depends on how it’s read. I’m reading Doris Lessing’s 1971 introduction to her wonderful The Golden Notebook and it details the reader letters she received: some readers only saw the feminism, others the failed communist dream, still others only the theme of mental illness. I’ll quote her because she says it beautifully:

…it is not only childish of a writer to want readers to see what he sees, to understand the shape and aim of the novel as he sees it—his wanting this means that he has not understood a most fundamental point. Which is that the book is alive and potent and fructifying and able to promote thought and discussion only when its plan and shape and intention are not understood, because that moment of seeing the shape and the plan and intention is also the moment when there isn’t anything more to be got out of it.

So no, I don’t think there should be any themes an Indian SF writer must engage with; that feels like a curbing of imagination and freedom to me, which is not what SF (or fiction) is about. What I do hope for is what Salik mentioned as well: that Indian writers feel the freedom to put the power dynamics that shaped them into their work (in whatever form, location, or fantasy they like). Not because it’s a needed political stance but because it’s the best bet for creating something that lives.

Salik Shah

SS: Stories that are deeply personal and universal are also richly political. Our lives are governed by hidden hands and invisible claws of capital and constitution. When I started looking for stories for the inaugural issue of Mithila Review, I chose stories that represented my reality—the South Asian experience—but there weren’t too many science fiction and fantasy stories that spoke to me. I didn’t find the bulk of speculative fiction in major publications relevant; even today most stories that I receive from India are well-written stories that don’t give me a clear sense of an actual time and place—the hidden, fragile, or overpowering threads of their societies, histories, or worldbuilding. Stories that were shortlisted for our first two issues devoted to the quest for dignity and justice came from writers around the world: Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Cambodia, China, America, Uganda, etc.

Why do I have to look across our border to find stories that speak to me? The Hugo-winning sensation from China—Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body trilogy—is the product of a well-established market and genre tradition within the country. It is the result of a literary and commercial collaboration between the best minds in two major cultural centres of the world. Similarly, Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) is a book worth noting, also Lagoon (2014) and the Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor, and Nora K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. These award-winning writers and books show that successful fiction is often, if not always, deeply political.

India is not the best place to start a speculative journal. Most Indian speculative writers seem to resist the need to seriously engage with political issues of the day. At least, overtly, skillfully. I don’t think we can or should avoid politics. Remember, the decision to illuminate or erase politics is also political. To be brutally honest, I don’t think we have many Indian writers writing in English today with a body of work that could rival the scope or ambition of Hugo-winners. Until we can build a sustainable market with a healthy competition and a robust culture of high-quality literary production, I don’t think we can really address the unknown or urgent needs of our readers for excellent, deeply personal and political stories that take them to a new yet familiar time and geography; stories that help them understand and grapple with their sense of private, gender or political identity, isolation or dis/location; stories that provoke, inspire, and change something within them. The best of speculative fiction also serves as splinters of hope for me and our small nation of readers, I believe.

As an editor, I try to keep an open mind and remain open to critical themes. As a reader, I would love to read more stories about climate change, gender, alternative futures, marginal communities and movements set in India and beyond. Stories that can take us to a compelling future, or back to choppy waters of time. Stories that employ science facts to create exciting science fiction and fantasy, and introduce or bring more readers and writers to the field. Stories that stand out, and are deeply moving and memorable, also influential and significant within and outside of the strict and fluid definitions of our genre.

GB: India does have a thriving tradition of modern speculative fiction in languages other than English. For example, we know there has been a powerful tradition of SF-writing in Bengali (kalpavigyan) and Marathi. But of course, where you’re born in India is going to determine, to a large extent, what languages you learn, and whether you can access these traditions.

Have you felt yourselves steeped in, and influenced by, SF writing in Indian languages other than English? And as writers and editors who do work in English, how can we locate ourselves within—or at least tap into—these many diverse traditions of SFF that our subcontinent has produced? Is this something that’s even possible?

PA: I’m afraid you’ve got me. I haven’t read much fiction—in any genre—in Indian languages since leaving school. It’s a great pity because I understand there is a lot of wonderful stuff. Just the other day a friend was telling me about an epic fantasy novel in Hindi that she was introduced to by her grandmother. It sounded like a cracking story. I had never heard of it but went home and Googled it and felt even more ashamed. Apparently it is considered the first modern Hindi novel, and even helped in the spread of Hindi as a language (Chandrakanta, by Dev Nandan Khatri). It also led to a very popular show on Doordarshan that seems to have somehow escaped my attention. Suck on that, Weiss and Benioff.

I don’t read in any language other than English. I’ve read plenty of translations, but I will always put them aside if the translator’s English prose isn’t up to the mark. (It’s a tragedy that so many Indian novels are translated poorly.) Perhaps more even than stories I’m in love with the English language. I loved it as a child and I love it even more now. I find I can study technique and style, how a writer achieves effects, when I’m reading in English. The best writers open new doors, portals, into my understanding of the English language. Sadly, I’ve never felt that way reading in any other language. If that makes me colonised or colonial or whatever, so be it. As a wise man once sang, we can’t help falling in love.

TM: I haven’t read any Indian SF writing in languages other than English and I think my writing has suffered for it. I’m trying to remedy that (Mimi Mondal’s “A short history of South Asian speculative fiction: Part I on Tor.com seems a great place to start).

I think we can tap into that diverse tradition. Language is a barrier for me and I would have to read these stories/novels as translations, which is never quite the same as reading them in the original language. But then again, I read Anna Karenina as a translation and that hasn’t stopped it from influencing my writing. Ideology, tone, and perspective come through. Once you’ve taken the time to familiarise yourself with those traditions to the extent possible, works become part of your personal canon.

Prayaag, that Hindi novel sounds fantastic—thank you for the recommendation!

SS: I read SF in Indian languages when I can. My Bengali is elementary, and I have only read Marathi SF in translation in Hindi and English. And yes, it’s possible to tap into the many traditions of SF in Indian languages through translations. What we lack is will, funding, and resources. I am very much open and interested in publishing translations into and from Indian and world languages in Mithila Review and elsewhere. I’m in talks with Kalpabiswa to see if we can commission translations and publish the best of kalpavigyan in English as a regular feature. (If anyone is interested to contribute or volunteer, please get in touch!)

My “Notes on Indian Science Fiction: The Parallel Worlds of Jayant Narlikar and Vandana Singh” is especially relevant here. It’s an article worth reading if you are interested to know how an Indian writer writing in English could be influenced by SF originally written in Marathi.

Anyone who grows up bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual in Asia has to come to terms with the history and legacy of colonialism and the tyranny of English language. We are marked by anxieties and doubts—how we came to acquire this language which we call our own is often an unresolved question that we learn to avoid. What is the place of Indian writers in English language? Who are our readers? You can find hints to a never-ending struggle to resolve these questions especially in my poetry. Translation is one way in which one can begin to counter the subjugation of self, tradition, and history by the English language and culture. Another is switching between and writing in multiple languages. A case in point is Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)—a remarkable act of resistance or intervention written in English and Spanish.

GB: Well, that brings me to my next question. Because the corpus of Indian SF that exists in other languages is closed to us, and because the English corpus remains sparse, our exposure to SF tends to be heavily biased towards Anglo-American works. The first fantasy novel I read was The Hobbit, and the first SF novel was The Foundation. My entire interest and fascination with SF was shaped by the work of writers who were coming from a very different context, whose worldbuilding reflected that, and, looking back, at times was quite opposed to my own context (I’m thinking of SF’s relationship of complicity with colonial narratives). And I imagine this is true for many people of our generation. So, what I want to ask is this: have you ever felt that these “canonical works” don’t exactly speak to you, and even feel a little alien? And now, that you’re writers and editors, that there’s some kind of an impulse to push back against that?  

TM:  Oh yes. Ridiculously, I hadn’t noticed the alienation until recently, when I began reading outside the Anglo-American canon in SF. I was reading Ken Liu’s short story “Mono No Aware,” which has a Japanese central character and talks about precisely this: stories with a certain ideology at their centre that then get repeated until it feels like the only ideology. The short story deals with the traditional American narrative of having a hero and saving the day, contrasting it with Japanese cultural ideas about a person’s role in a community. I don’t want to give away too much—read the story; I cried like a baby—but just having someone go, actually there are different things prioritised in this culture, like community and acceptance moved me deeply.

Which, of course, makes me want to do the same. I wouldn’t call it a push back—it’s not specifically crafted against any repeated narrative. It’s just a reinforcing of the subtleties that make a culture. Basically, you’re gently leading the reader to a different idea of how the story will unfold based on different cultural priorities. I think everyone suffers when we’re told only one type of narrative. Books are traditionally what people turn to to help them tell the stories of themselves—only one kind of narrative can make a very suffocating world.

SS:  Yes, all the time. Tashan is right—the world without diversity can be very suffocating. Ken Liu makes everyone cry, it seems (including me). He is definitely a good role model for writers around the world. That said, I love series like The Foundation, The Expanse, or The Three-Body Trilogy—it’s precisely that sense of wonder and estrangement that I crave as a SF reader. Also, I’m a huge fan of Chandrakanta and The Lord of the Rings.

When it comes to science fantasy, there are writers like Lavie Tidhar, who are trying to write what could be termed as “World SF.” His novel Central Station (2016) is quite remarkable, inclusive and diverse. I think we need more of “World SF” rooted in as many world cultures than, say, purely “Indian SF,” “Chinese SF”, or “American SF,” if we truly want to address the urgent needs of our time, transcend ethnic, racial, or national fault lines and embrace the idea of the entire planet as our common home. If we can’t imagine or appreciate being in the shoes of another person, alien or stranger, the consequences could be disastrous for the entire human race.

We don’t have an overwhelming tradition of SF in English, and it’s probably a good thing. As writers like Priya Sharma, Indrapramit Das, and Vandana Singh are beginning to make their presence felt globally, we have the freedom and opportunity to define what this genre could be not only for us but the whole world, including the dominant centers of SF publishing.

GB: Salik, I think it’s interesting that two of the three writers you ended with live and work outside India, and they are not exceptional cases. For obvious reasons, if you, as an Indian SF writer who works in English, wants to make a mark, the US or the anglophone “Western World” perhaps remain more attractive destinations.

So, in that context, I want to conclude with a couple of queries. Quite apart from everything else, do you feel a sense of kinship when you read, say, a piece by Vandana Singh, that you don’t if you’re reading (say) Ken Liu? Is there a possibility of an Indian SF community that sees itself as a community, in terms of sensibilities, cultural and social referents, themes, etc., but not in terms of geography? And closer to home, do you see a possibility that in the next few years, even in terms of geography, there will be a stronger SF community in India, built around conventions, seminar series like the one recently held at Jindal University, and magazines like Mithila Review?

TM: I certainly hope there are more seminars like the one at Jindal University—I had a great time. I think it’s heading in that direction. As I mentioned, there is definitely a community in place and they’re talking more about what they’re doing and why. And perhaps I am wrong about this, but the audience base for speculative fiction seems wider now. Just look at the popularity of Black Mirror—especially the conversational topic it has become at parties. Morphed realities seem better suited to the strange world we’ve unfortunately created.

I don’t really know where Indian speculative fiction is headed though. Part of me hopes it will always be like that—that you can never know because someone else is planning to break into the scene and change the way things are done. That feels like the heart of speculative fiction to me: constant, passionate, and startling innovation.

But I will say that I hope it grows enough of an identity to stand on its own, without definitions. That new authors feel the freedom and confidence to do whatever they like with what made them. And that if World SF does become the future—because it does seem really great—a certain way of seeing the world will find easy representation, not only in the characters but also in how the novel is shaped.

SS: I think as readers we tend to feel more strongly about books rather than authors. Reading for me is often work, and I’m grateful to anyone who can make it entertaining, meaningful, or worthwhile. Yes, there is a sense of kinship which comes from our shared roots or culture, but, like Prayaag said, you can’t force readers to fall in love with you if your work isn’t up to the mark. I think readers are a busy and selfish lot. They don’t care who you are if they find it hard to read or respect your work. At the same time, we can be extremely generous. When we fall in love with great stories and characters, we extend that feeling to not only their authors, but also editors, publishers, curators, and so on.

As a community, I think we’re on track. Seminars and talks are slowly happening, and they will become more frequent when more Indian readers and communities start supporting their writers, editors, and publishers. It’s too early for me to speak about all our plans for India, Mithila Review, and the international SF community because so much depends on factors outside my control, funding, and institutional support from both within and outside of India. That said, I have more reasons than I can count to be grateful to our contributors and patrons, writers, editors, and publishers worldwide.

The American and international journals and institutions have given SF writers and scholars from India a sense of belonging and purpose, excellent platforms and opportunities to learn and grow. I want Mithila Review to be able to continue to follow their examples and build similar infrastructures here, and welcome writers from around the world to be part of our growing family. I want us to be able to extend our love and support to each and every member of our community with the kind of sincerity, humility, and generosity that we have come to seek, respect, and rely upon. Let us not destroy what little we have accomplished so far with small-mindedness, unhealthy competition, or unprofessional behavior. We should all be rooting for and taking pride in and celebrating each other’s small accomplishments and big triumphs.  

Thank you so much, Gautam, for this wonderful initiative. Prayaag and Tashan, it was wonderful to hear your thoughts. My best wishes to you all, and also to you, dear readers!



Prayaag Akbar is the author of Leila, an award-winning novel that Netflix is now developing into a series. It will be published in the UK and much of the English-speaking world in July 2018. He is a consulting editor at Mint.
Tashan Mehta is a novelist based in Mumbai. Her first novel, The Liar’s Weave, was published in India last year and she is now working on her second. Her interest lies in form and cross-genres. You can find out more about her at tashanmehta.com.
Gautam Bhatia is based in New Delhi, India. When not at his day job as a lawyer and legal academic, he tries to lay hands on the latest works of historical and speculative fiction—with a particular taste for high fantasy and Orwellian dystopias—and read them from cover to cover. He has reviewed before for the Jadaliyya Magazine, and blogs about books at anenduringromantic.
One comment on “Remaking the Difference: A Discussion about Indian Speculative Fiction”
shiva kumar

Fascinating symposium! Enjoyed the discussion immensely. Just as each of you are trying to find new language to find your fit, I am trying to find my place in this vast SFF speculative world. A few years ago I had stumbled onto Ashok Menon's symposium on "Is there such a thing as Indian SFF." I am an Indian American who left India for the US as a teenager. I read Burroughs, Robert E. Howard and Tolkien as a boy. I was also deeply in love with our traditional stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. I had always wanted to find a way to tell those stories in a modern, albeit western context. Just as Macbeth, Hamlet, The Illiad and the Odyssey keep getting retold, and many of the retellings are wonderful, so too can Indian epics be retold in innumerable ways. I recently read Indra Dass's - The Devourers and found it gorgeous, exquisite and ghastly. I have been working on a retelling of the Ramayana in the year 2294. Book one of the trilogy is called- An Awakening and it imagines the story from a time when Rama is in his late fifties and looks back on the events of his life with regret and remorse. Here in the U.S. it seems a bit too exotic and in India there seems to be an exhaustion over bad retellings of mythological stories, so I am trying to find a digital land of like minded thinkers so this was a great find. Thanks and look forward to reading more about the emergence of Indian SFF. - Cheers!

 

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